Hiatuses just don’t work for everyone. After The Knife’s Silent Shout exploded and became one the most celebrated albums of 2006, the brother/sister duo of Olaf Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson were supposed to take a break. After all, Andersson had her second baby on the way. Apparently, she didn’t get the message because she just kept on writing, eventually winding up with a batch of songs that would become Fever Ray.
Not surprisingly, Fever Ray isn’t a grand departure from The Knife. Andersson’s otherworldly vocals, and the litany of effects used to make them sound as alien as possible, continue to haunt her solo debut. Fever Ray’s stark, gothy synths certainly sound familiar, as does the occasional flourish of traditional rock instrumentation. Given that half the album was produced with the assistance of Knife mixer Christoffer Berg (the other half was produced by fellow Swedes Van River & The Subliminal Kid), the sonic similarities aren’t exactly shocking.
That said, Fever Ray is no retread. Where albums like Silent Shout and Deep Cuts were grandiose, genre-defining efforts, Fever Ray is decidedly restrained and downbeat. Listeners won’t find any high-energy techno flirtations here—Fever Ray is more like The Knife on Quaaludes. Lead single “If I Had a Heart” features a humming synth, virtually no percussion, and vocals that rarely rise above a growl. Another icy number is “Concrete Walls,” whose ominous vocals have been pitched down and warped to a point where they barely register as human. Similarly spooky is “Dry and Dusty,” although the track’s lilting melodies and plinking beats do manage to pick up the pace a little bit.
While all this may lend the impression that Fever Ray is some sort of dour mope-fest, some of its best moments happen when Andersson dials down the emotional detachment. Where The Knife’s experimentation with processed vocals only enhanced their eerie aesthetic, Fever Ray shines brightest when Andersson sounds more human. “Grow Up” is downright emotive, with the vocals soaring alongside a plucky bassline and playful keys. “Seven” could be mistaken for a lost ballad from Madonna or some other ’80s dance queen, while the chiming synths and swirling melodies of “Triangle Walk” sound like something Siouxsie and The Banshees would have dreamed up. A truly unexpected delight is “Keep the Streets Empty for Me,” a sonically stripped-down offering that easily qualifies as the most organic thing on the record. With its gently strummed acoustic guitar, untreated vocals, and simple arrangement, the song recalls the more delicate moments of someone like Polly Jean Harvey.
Comparisons to other artists aside, it’s all but impossible to examine Fever Ray without looking through the prism of Andersson’s previous output. While she may have scaled things down in terms of scope and set the sensor to pensive, Fever Ray retains real emotional heft. Andersson knows that storming the dancefloor isn’t always necessary; sometimes it’s fun to play it cool and twirl quietly in the corner.